A Letter from Lowell W. Perry
Chairman of the EEOC, 1975-1976
I frequently look back fondly at that time in my life when I was "baptized" into public service as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I was appointed in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford, and it was a great honor and privilege to serve in the Ford administration.
As the Chairman of the EEOC, I experienced much of the glitter and glamour that goes with a presidential appointment. But what made the most lasting impact, and affected me most deeply, was having the opportunity to travel across this nation, carrying the noble message of equal employment opportunity embodied in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It was especially rewarding and encouraging to meet with so many men and women, black, brown, yellow and white, who were sincerely committed to working for equal opportunity for all Americans, in every aspect of American life men and women who genuinely wanted to see all Americans share in this country's wealth and building for the future.
The United States is a large and diverse country. In order to make a significant impact on discrimination, I felt it was important to try to reach large segments of the population. By confronting large employers hiring thousands of employees, there was greater opportunity to change employment patterns through voluntary compliance as well as through litigation.
Significant systemic cases cover long periods of time. It takes tremendous resources to take a case from the initial motions to successful resolution. It also requires continuity and long- range strategic planning. On the other hand, emphasis on individual case-by-case approach incurs incredible backlogs. Besides, individual settlements have little impact on overall discrimination. Admittedly, it is a delicate balancing act.
The EEOC's work is information-intensive. I brought six very capable people with me to Washington, D.C., to help manage the EEOC, including a computer expert. Even back then, we felt we could make a much greater impact if we had the ability to computerize activities. A thorough statistical analysis is a critical tool in determining how to attack systemic discrimination. If you have relevant information at your fingertips, you can make decisions based on that and develop appropriate strategies.
Immediately prior to my arrival, the EEOC was a troubled agency with much publicized feuding between the Chair and the General Counsel. I realized early on in my tenure that this situation had caused a serious image problem for the agency. I am proud that many connected with the EEOC have described my leadership in the same way that President Ford's leadership has been described: "That my purpose there was to heal, and that my presence after such a turbulent period had been healing." I am also proud that during the year I served as EEOC Chair we were able to fill more that 200 or 300 existing staff vacancies. I think this was an early indication that the EEOC was going to survive and become a viable agency.
Another key issue during the 1970s was the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP). The 1972 amendments set up the Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinating Council, with members from EEOC and the Labor and Justice Departments. The purpose was to develop uniform federal hiring guidelines. During my tenure, the Council began to meet and work out some of the complicated rules and regulations. Unfortunately, it took almost a decade to bring these agencies closer together and forge a consensus.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the helm of the EEOC. I worked with many dedicated staff who were clearly in the struggle to make a difference and dedicated their lives to achieve the noble goal of equal employment opportunity. Although my stay was short because I desired to resume my business career, I believe this business background was immensely helpful in reorganizing the Commission and making important changes. It was a great experience, and I would do it again if presented that same opportunity.
It is disturbing today, on the EEOC's 30th anniversary, to witness a national debate that would turn this country's back on affirmative action programs that are yet needed.
See also: Chairman Lowell W. Perry's bio